The Spanish government has fired the director of its top intelligence agency after the disclosure of the hacking of politicians’ cell phones, El Pais newspaper reported on Tuesday, May 10.
The EFE and Reuters news agencies said government sources confirmed the dismissal of Paz Esteban after days of rumours on her departure.
A hacking scandal
Earlier this month, Spanish officials confirmed that Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and defence minister Margarita Robles’ cell phones were hacked with the Pegasus spyware.
Israeli company NSO says it only sells the Pegasus spyware to government agencies.
In April, Canadian cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab said the phones of over 60 people linked to the Catalan pro-independence movement had been hacked using the Pegasus spyware.
Citizen Lab reported that the hacks started in late 2019, with Esteban in charge of the Spanish intelligence agency CNI.
According to Spanish officials, Esteban herself admitted in a closed-door meeting last week that her agency had hacked the phones of several Catalan separatists after receiving judicial permission.
The controversy has sparked a political crisis between Sanchez’s minority government and Catalan separatist party ERC, which Sanchez’s fragile coalition often relies on to pass legislation in parliament.
Esteban, 64, became the first woman to head the CNI in July 2019. She initially served on an interim basis and was later appointed to a permanent position in February 2020.
In 2017, Esteban’s predecessor came under fire for failing to stop preparations by Catalan separatists to hold an independence referendum that had been deemed illegal by Spain’s top courts.